It’s hard to know quite how to respond to politicians who are willing to make things up so brazenly. Except, I suppose, to point out that one should take anything they say with a grain of salt, given that they are bloodthirsty werewolves who defile virgins by the light of the full moon.
[digg-reddit-me]Who knew the Bush administration actually had a strategy in fighting Al Qaeda?
Robert Grenier, who according to Joby Warrick of the Washington Post is “a former top CIA counterterrorism official who is now managing director of Kroll, a risk consulting firm” explained that we were now winning the fight against Al Qaeda after losing so many battles because:
One of the lessons we can draw from the past two years is that al-Qaeda is its own worst enemy. Where they have succeeded initially, they very quickly discredit themselves.
And you didn’t think Bush had a strategy. ((To be clear – I do think the recent successes are real, and that Al Qaeda is losing support, etcetera. But I think Bush’s strategy has been largely counter-productive – and in fact put off this recent intra-extremist fight because he refused to distinguish between these opposing groups – the most egregious example being the invasion of Iraq in response to 9/11.))
It’s the old “invade-two-countries-and-use-heavy-handed- tactics-to-rile-up-the-extremists- so-that- they- initially- have- public- support- but-then- pretend -to-have -an-incompetent- strategy- to-combat- the-extremists- so-that-they- succeed- which-will- then-lead- to-the- public- turning -on- them- because- they-are- evil- doers -after-all.” One of Sun Tzu’s classic stratagems.
And apparently one which is having some success – as Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank suggest in their important piece in The New Republic, “The Unraveling.” Bergen and Cruickshank attribute the ideological rifts within the Muslim extremist community to Al Qaeda’s strategic blunders – but they do not give Bush enough credit for his secret plan to let Al Qaeda succeed so that their empty ideology could be exposed for what it is by fellow extremists.
Bush’s secret plan to win the War on Terrorism bears a strong resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s plan to defeat the Communist Soviet Union. By convincing the public and most of his administration that the USSR had taken a significant lead in all sorts of military areas, he increased America’s military spending exponentially. As the Soviet Union tried to keep up, it eventually collapsed exposing it’s system’s hidden flaws. Although the CIA was caught by surprise by this development during George H. W. Bush’s first term, conservatives quickly confirmed that this was all part of Reagan’s secret plan to end the destroy the Soviet Union by spending like a drunken sailor in America.
George W. Bush – whose wisdom, like Reagan’s is often compared to that of the mythical hedgehog of Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay – has been blessed with authentically evil enemies. Even if he allows them to win, within their winning are the seeds of their destruction.
It is a cunning strategy.
Now we just have to make sure we don’t choose a president who screws it all up by going after Al Qaeda in a competent fashion – a competence that might even distinguish between the Muslim extremist groups that are fighting with one another. It might look like Al Qaeda’s recent troubles happened despite, rather than because of, Bush’s ingenious strategy. But that’s only because we didn’t give enough credit to Bush and John McCain for having this secret strategy.
Now that we know, it’s important to support the right American candidate for this American presidency in this American election against all those anti-Americans out there. Vote for the Bush-McCain Super-Secret Counterterrorism Strategy: Winning the War on Terrorism by Losing Every Battle and Letting Al Qaeda Defeat Itself!
[Photo courtesy of christhedunn.]
[digg-reddit-me]In an article in the New York Times evaluating John McCain’s foreign policy vision, Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under the first President George Bush, described a fight currently being waged within the Republican party over the potential direction of McCain’s foreign policy: “It may be too strong a term to say a fight is going on over John McCain’s soul. But … there is at least going to be an attempt.” Eagleburger was referring to was the foreign policy chasm between the Republican party of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan ((One could argue that Ronald Reagan was not a pragmatist, but many of his administration were, and his foreign policy was essentially pragmatism wedded to extreme rhetoric.)) , and George H. W. Bush and the Republican party of George W. Bush; between the realists and the idealists; between the paleo-cons and the neo-cons.
John McCain been playing both sides of this intra-Republican war since George W. Bush took office. In his most prominent speech on foreign policy, he described himself as a “realistic idealist.” He explained that his particular approach to the world came from his idealistic core being tempered by “hard experience.” He claims to bridge the chasm between these two approaches, and through his career he has mainly managed to assuage both sides. On the most prominent issue in recent years, Iraq, most of the pragmatists questioned, and often publicly opposed, the decision to launch a preemptive war in the Middle East; the neo-cons were the main proponents of the war. McCain managed to placate both sides by criticizing the execution of the war and the tactical decisions of the Bush administration while defending the overall strategy strongly. In this, McCain was essentially taking the neo-con side in the long-term, but allying himself for the short-term with the realists.
Though this approach has worked well for McCain as a senator, it would be impossible to continue as president because McCain would then have responsibility for both the overall strategy of the War on Terrorism and the tactics used.
For the moment, both the realist camps and the neo-conservative camps believe McCain is on their side at heart. But he can’t be on both sides. If we are to try to figure out what a McCain foreign policy would look like, it is unhelpful to list the specific policies and attitudes he has stated he will adopt towards particular nations. Foreign policy is a constantly shifting, adjusting use of power – and the single area of policy most directly and completely within the control of the executive. What is useful in trying to figure out what a McCain foreign policy would look like is an understanding of the basic assumptions McCain has about foreign policy.
- A focus, first and foremost, on the overriding and existential threat of “radical Islamist extremism.”
McCain considers problems such as China’s rise, Russia’s increasing belligerence, and global climate change as far less important than the defining “national security challenge of our time.” I posited in an earlier post that it is because of the importance of the fight against Islamist extremism that McCain has flip-flopped on so many other domestic and national security issues: “After September 11, McCain had found a new enemy that was greater than the corruption of the political process and he was willing to put aside all of his domestic agenda to focus on the new enemy.”
- A demand for moral clarity.
McCain has, throughout his career, sought enemies to fight. His personal sense of his self seems to demand that he be the white knight and those opposing him be the forces of evil itself. This is an exaggeration certainly ((Hopefully.)) , but this demand for absolute clarity leads to a poor understanding of the world, especially of our enemies. For example, McCain does not merely lack an understanding of the Muslim world; his positions indicate he has imposed a particular ideological framework on his understanding – a framework which does not allow for distinctions among radical groups. ((As his comments in Iraq made clear. Those who would defend McCain as having “mis-spoke” can look to at least three instances when he expressed the same idea.)) While many on the right praise McCain’s moral clarity for condemning radical Islamist extremists as the evil-doers they are, it seems an unquestionably poor strategy in a War on Terrorism to unite our enemies instead of attempting to divide them. It is notable that McCain does not mention the clear and tactically vital divisions among our enemies and among our allies in the Middle East. The words “Sunni” or “Shia” are not mentioned in either of McCain’s two attempts to lay out his entire foreign policy. In this way, McCain is continuing the tradition of George W. Bush.
- Iraq as the central front in the War on Terrorism.
McCain cites Al Qaeda as proof that Iraq is a central front in the War on Terrorism. But Sun Tzu, ancient and wise author of The Art of War, has said that one of the first steps to winning a war is to choose the battlefield that gives you the most advantages. Al Qaeda apparently feels that Iraq plays to their advantages. In many ways, they are right. In an extraordinary article in The New Republic, Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank write of the “jihadist revolt against Bin Laden.” They cite a range of Muslim religious leaders, former and current terrorists, and a man described the “the ideological father of Al Qaeda” who were sympathetic to Bin Laden, even after September 11, who have all publicly broken from Al Qaeda in the past several years ((Most since 2005.)) . Bergen and Cruickshank caution that:
Most of these clerics and former militants, of course, have not suddenly switched to particularly progressive forms of Islam or fallen in love with the United States (all those we talked to saw the Iraqi insurgency as a defensive jihad)
But Bergen and Cruickshank still believe that the anti-Al Qaeda positions of these radicals are making Americans safer. John McCain refuses to differentiate between the insurgency and the forces of Al Qaeda in Iraq – an enormous tactical blunder. And it is mainly because of this confusion that he has declared that Iraq is the central front of the War on Terrorism, when in fact, it is one of the few areas that unite jihadists opposed to Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda itself. ((The distinction here should be a bit more subtle as the jihadists referenced by Bergen and Cruickshank oppose Al Qaeda’s tactics in Iraq, so they are not totally united on that issue.))
- Premised on the exclusive power of nation-states.
In contrast to Richard Haas, editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, who believes we are in an age of non-polarity with non-state forces multiplying and state power dispersing, McCain premises his foreign policy on the power of nation-states – both America’s power and that of other nations – to affect virtually every area of policy. As McCain sets forth his foreign policy vision, he describes his policy country by country; for those issues he considered global, he describes how he will get other countries to act with us. While his aims here are clearly worthy, he seems to misunderstand how the world has been developing since the end of the Cold War. This assumption also underlies his focus on Iraq in the War on Terrorism. Even as Al Qaeda did much of the planning for it’s attacks in the lawless areas of Pakistan and within the free societies of Berlin, London, and New York City, McCain, like Bush, has focused on the role of states in assisting terrorism. Although this is certainly one component of any War Against Terrorism, it clearly should not be the main focus. One of the achievements of four years of a McCain presidency would be, according to a speech given by the candidate two weeks ago, that “There is no longer any place in the world al Qaeda can consider a safe haven.” Certainly a worthy goal – but it is belied by the fact that Al Qaeda can function within the freedoms offered by a Western democracy. The theory underpinning this claim, this hope, of McCain’s is that Al Qaeda can only function with some form of state sponsorship – which does not seem to be a supportable assumption.
- Demonstrations of toughness.
Since John F. Kennedy suffered through his meeting with Kruschev in Vienna ((And probably before.)) , presidents have been trying to prove their toughness to the world. The Cuban Missile Crisis was mainly a demonstration of toughness on the part of Kennedy; Lyndon Johnson pushed the line in Vietnam to show he was tough; Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada to demonstrate his toughness after retreating when attacked by Muslim extremists in Lebanon; Bill Clinton bombed countries to show his toughness; George W. Bush invaded Iraq and authorized torture. In the current campaign, each of the remaining candidates has tried to demonstrate their toughness in revealing ways. Hillary Clinton threatened to obliterate Iran; Barack Obama vowed to take out Bin Laden or a top Al Qaeda operative with or without Pakistan’s permission; John McCain has promised to continue the War in Iraq. The lesson I take from the historical examples is that “demonstrations of toughness” provide a boost domestically for a short time but rarely make the desired impression internationally, and are an exceptionally bad basis for a policy. McCain, by promising not to back down from Al Qaeda in Iraq, is buying into the Bush doctrine of replacing a genuine strategy to combat terrorism with “demonstrations of toughness”.
- Acting as “good global citizens.”
This is the central difference between John McCain’s foreign policy vision and George W. Bush’s. He believes it is important that America act as a “good global citizen” and a good ally. For McCain, this means working internationally to combat global climate change, being open to persuasion by our allies, ending the policy of military torture of detainees ((Torture by the CIA is apparently still a deliberately gray area.)) , and numerous goodwill gestures. The Bush administration has begun to move in this direction in his second term already. McCain would be able to move further along, and could make genuine progress on global climate change.
- Inherent American exceptionalism.
This idea is directly related to McCain’s demand for moral clarity. Just as he sees himself as essentially incorruptible, so he sees America. This idealization of America is what made his opposition to torture so inspiring. He was calling on the ideal conception of America to combat a corrupting evil which had been introduced into our system. In a similar way, he used his ideal conception of America to argue for the reform of our political process in his 2000 campaign. His foreign policy though demonstrates how this can be a very bad assumption to make. It is one thing to point to American history and to say that we have been an exceptional nation – as Obama regularly does. McCain implies an inherence to America’s goodness, one that exists irrespective of our actions. This assumption underlies McCain’s insistence that the decision to invade Iraq was right ((For if America is inherently good, it cannot be ill-motivated.)) ; that the Bush administration’s strategy in the War on Terrorism is essentially sound; that a change in tone is what is mainly needed to rally our allies; that we remain the world’s “only monument of human rights” in spite of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret prisons, torture, and Iraq; that we must still “protect and promote” democracy to the Middle East; and that America offers a “unique form of leadership – the antithesis of empire – [which] gives us moral credibility, which is more powerful than any show of arms ((One of McCain’s top foreign policy advisors, Niall Ferguson, wrote a book explaining that by virtually any definition, America is an empire.)) .” This is a dangerous idea in a large part because it is not shared by most of the world. For example, although we can declare we are the “antithesis of empire”, we will still be treated as one as long as we are projecting our military, economic, and political power around the world and occupying a sovereign nation.
Some questions remain about McCain’s basic views on foreign policy – many stemming from his triangulation between the neo-cons and realists for the past decade. I’ll be posting some of them later.
[digg-reddit-me]Although I was never crazy about the idea, there was a time – several weeks ago now – when I considered the idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket to be a potentially good idea. Andrew Sullivan’s excellent column floating the idea moved me somewhat – even as I tended to think that Senator Jim Webb would be a better choice. I had thought of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s description of Lincoln’s genius in organizing his “team of rivals” even before Sullivan mentioned it. And I thought that Obama could pull it off if any politician today could. But Maureen Dowd’s description of Obama’s and Clinton’s interpersonal dynamic struck me as accurate enough, and Clinton continued to campaign – standing up for her supporters – “hard-working white people”; comparing her efforts to de-legitimatize the process of delegate selection she at first endorsed to abolition; and in general acting as if Obama’s nomination were not only a personal affront to her but the end of the Democratic party.
So, I’ve soured on the idea. Here’s seven reasons why Hillary Clinton should not be chosen as Obama’s vice presidential running mate:
- From Rachel Maddow on MSNBC’s Inside the War Room just a few minutes ago:
- It will undermine the rationale behind Obama’s candidacy and make Obama look weak. As Reihan Salam of The Atlantic wrote:
A backroom deal with Clinton would make a mockery of Obama’s language of hope and change. It would make Obama appear weak, and it would reward Clinton for running a campaign more vicious than anything Lee Atwater could have cooked up. More importantly, Obama would be choosing a fundamentally weak and unpopular running mate who has masked her marked executive inexperience through endless misrepresentation of her role in the Clinton White House – a role that begins and ends with a healthcare debacle that would have gotten anyone other than a First Lady fired.
Or, to put it as John Edwards did:
- She doesn’t put a single state or demographic group on the board for Obama.
She is a highly polarizing figure. The demographic splits in the primaries so far have been best explained by the Peabody award-winning Josh Marshall over at the Talking Points Memo: The only areas where Hillary has decisively beaten Obama are in the Appalachian region of the country. But Hillary is far from the best candidate to appeal to this group. Former Senator John Edwards, Governor Ed Rendell, Governor Ted Strickland, and especially Senator Jim Webb all would seem to have greater appeal to the Scotch-Irish Reagan Democrats of the Appalachia. Clinton’s base is entirely in the Democratic party where she is relatively popular, while Obama has substantial support among independents and even some Republicans. That is why Clinton has done better in closed primaries than ones open to independents or all parties (at least until Rush Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos gained traction).
- She’s run a terrible campaign so far. Would she run a better campaign if she trying to win for Obama?
Her campaign is already $21,000,000.00 in debt. She squandered enormous institutional and name recognition advantages. Does anyone still remember that she was the prohibitive favorite before “a skinny kid with a funny name” expertly managed one of the hardest fought campaigns in history?
- She shouldn’t be rewarded for trying to bully her way onto the ticket (after being told no “politely but straightforwardly and irrevocably“, threatening an “open civil war“) and for her bullying tactics during the rest of the campaign (threatening to withhold funds from the DNC; attacking Nancy Pelosi; lying about Obama’s record on abortion, NAFTA, and other issues; using voter suppression tactics in Nevada and Iowa; and undermining the legitimacy of the delegate selection process she agreed to when she thought it was to her benefit.)
- Her sense of entitlement.
As a bonus:
Hillary’s not going to help Obama win in November. Let’s get on to the main event already.
Isaac Chotiner of The New Republic “throws some elbows” in his pushback against Senator Joe Lieberman’s Obama-like-all-Democrats-is-unmanly-and-weak-on-terrorism editorial in the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.
That’s right: It wasn’t all that bad that JFK ordered a disastrous invasion of Cuba that almost led–at least indirectly–to nuclear war with the Soviets. No, that was fine when compared to Obama’s “naivete.” And as for Reagan’s Iran policy, well, nothing to criticize there. Perhaps if Obama sent Ahmadinejad some missiles and a birthday cake, the Illinois Senator would gain Lieberman’s approval…
[digg-reddit-me]A few weeks ago, when the electoral math began to indicate that Senator Hillary Clinton had little no chance of catching Senator Barack Obama, the voices of the Democratic establishment who had remained mainly neutral began to push a new meme. These establishment voices clearly wanted to send a message to the Clintons: “Stay in the race as long as you want. But keep it clean.”
Bob Shrum wrote in the New York Times two weeks ago:
She has very little chance of winning, but Hillary Clinton has no reason to get out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination — for now. A long shot isn’t the same as no chance at all. And an extended campaign doesn’t have to wound the nominee, assuming a measure of self-restraint on both sides…
The degree of aggression on each side may not be comparable, as both sides argue on their own behalf. But the Democratic nomination may not be worth winning if the victor is lacerated as unready, unfit to hold the office, or un-American — not, as expected, by the vast right-wing conspiracy but by a Democratic rival.
[C]alls for Hillary to withdraw – calls that invariably rest on the mathematical case against her candidacy – are premature. By winning Ohio and Texas, Hillary won the right to continue in this race.
… [But] it’s imperative that, as Hillary Clinton continues her campaign, she conduct it in a certain manner: She can’t run the type of campaign she ran in the lead-up to Ohio and Texas. For weeks, Clinton attacked Obama with a relish not previously seen in this race. But it wasn’t the fact she was attacking Obama that was problematic, it was how she was attacking him–namely, in a way that will make it more difficult for Obama should he, as is still likely, be the Democratic nominee in November. For instance, it would have been fine for Hillary to argue that she’d make a better commander-in-chief than Obama; but it was wrong for her to essentially argue, as she did on more than one occasion, that she and John McCain would make better commanders-in-chief than Obama. Similarly, her strange hedging on “60 Minutes” about whether she believes Obama isn’t a Muslim only added fuel to the unfounded rumors that are already circulating about his faith. Frankly, Clinton’s chances are slim enough that a win-at-all-costs mentality from her campaign is not worth the risk of doing irreparable damage to the candidate who will likely be her party’s nominee.
Yet – for whatever reason, despite the fact that she has little chance of winning – Ms. Clinton has continued to attack Obama using Rovian tactics of guilt-by-association, character assassination, the questioning of patriotism, and divisive identity politics. Barack Obama’s campaign has not been pure – from the beginning, he made it clear that he was willing to fight when challenged, as the hiring of David Axelrod as his campaign manager demonstrated. But the restraint he has shown has been truly remarkable. Just a taste of the topics he hasn’t brought up: cattle futures; Travelgate; Filegate; her own pastor; pardons by her husband of terrorists that were intended to help her 2000 Senate campaign according to internal documents; the many shady deals her husband has made since leaving the presidency, often acting against his wife’s public positions. All of these directly relate to the kind of president she might be. We’re not even touching on Monica Lewinsky, on Whitewater, on Vince Foster, and the dozen other scandals of her husband’s administration as well as the persistent rumors of his continued infidelities and disconcerting business deals.
If Mr. Obama’s campaign has showed great restraint, Obama personally has shown even more restraint. Ms. Clinton has not – and her campaign has been worse. Last night, she demonstrated – in front of over ten million viewers – that she has no shame.
Perhaps that is why, today, without any significant event to move him except Ms. Clinton’s unconscionable performance at last night’s debate, Howard Dean demanded that superdelegates make their decisions “now.”
The Democratic party is worried about the damage Ms. Clinton is doing; as a co-worker of mine listens to hard-right talk radio through much of the day, I can hear the memes starting to spread – I can hear them gaining traction. Ms. Clinton is damaging herself, her party, and Obama – and she is attacking him using the very tactics she abhorred and laying the same groundwork for the “conservative” attacks on Obama that the right launched at Al Gore, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Max Cleeland, and many more Democrats (and a few Republicans).
That’s why I want Ms. Clinton to stay in the race. As I wrote almost two months ago:
If Ms. Clinton wants to help her party win the White House this November, she can give Mr. Obama the “vetting” she claims he lacks, and with ever increasing histrionics, throw every smear, every false allegation, every innuendo at him. She can make her name synonymous with the sleaze she throws at him; she has proven that she is capable of a viciousness reminiscent of a Karl Rove. And by playing the villain, she can discredit and de-fang the many attacks that are sure to come at Mr. Obama after he secures the nomination.
It is better for these attacks on Obama to come out now than in September or October before the election. And Mr. Obama must overcome this type of politics if he is to win in November. Perhaps it is best if these attacks come from a source reviled on the right, so they can be more easily dismissed as time goes on. Though I doubt that Ms. Clinton is thinking in these times, I am trying to determine the best way Ms. Clinton’s destructive course could be used to benefit Mr. Obama.
Most observers thought that Mr. Obama looked weary last night. He wasn’t able to – and didn’t seem to even try to – launch the “knockout punch” that would end the race. Some quip, some throwaway line that would undermine the basis of Ms. Clinton’s candidacy, as Lloyd Bentsen’s response to Dan Quayle:
What Obama did – again and again – was to respond to the allegations and pivot back to the issues. Mr. Obama was tired and off of his game, and Ms. Clinton was on point – yet, my gut feeling is that Mr. Obama won more votes last night than he lost, because a weary Obama was far more compelling and far more presidential than an invigorated, desperate, and affected Clinton.
Ms. Clinton is playing the villain well so far. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like an act last night.
Here’s my proposition: the Pennsylvania primary is less than 10 days away. Let Ms. Clinton bring everything she has to this – which is to say, let her throw all the mud she can. We’ll see in 10 days who the mud is sticking to – and if Mr. Obama survives these Rovian, Atwater-style attacks, he will be a significantly stronger candidate. If he can rise above them, then he will be a truly great candidate.
I say let Ms. Clinton play the villain – because she is not giving us a choice. She is staying in this race. Obama has bet his candidacy on the fundamental decency and good sense of the American people. And he’s gotten this far. I have hope that he can make it a bit farther.